Diaz an Unfinished Product While Getting His Second Look with the Tribe
Bob Toth | On 11, May 2017
Yandy Diaz got the phone call from the Cleveland Indians a little earlier than some might have expected when he was recalled earlier in the week to help the team replace Michael Brantley in the lineup for at least a few days on the turf in Toronto while he recouped from a sprained right ankle. An impressive hitting display by Diaz after his demotion to Triple-A Columbus on April 21 certainly merited that quick second look at the hot-hitting utility man by the Tribe.
The bat has normally not been the problem for Diaz during his professional career, but an inconsistent start with the stick and lingering questions about his ability to play an adequate defense at the Major League level left him in need of regular playing time somewhere, and such an opportunity did not exist with the Indians a few weeks into the regular season schedule.
A good spring and some timely injuries created an opportunity for Diaz to start the season on the Tribe’s roster as its Opening Day third baseman, but struggles at the plate, coupled with the returns of Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis from the 10-day disabled list, meant playing time would be scarce for the 25-year-old rookie from Cuba. To make room for Kipnis’ return (and the related move of Jose Ramirez back to third base from his temporary spot at second), Diaz was the odd man out.
The move may not have been well received among the Tribe faithful who hoped for a longer look at the right-handed hitter (and less of a look at veteran Swiss Army knife Michael Martinez), but with Diaz’s lack of experience and a lack of playing time pending, the move seemed the logical choice.
Diaz had produced with the Indians during his first go-round, but it had been nothing flashy by any means. After doubling for his first Major League hit in the opener on April 3 against the Texas Rangers, Diaz had been a singles machine, notching 12 more over his next 14 games. To his credit, he was able to get on base frequently, reaching safely via hit or walk in eleven straight starts at one point, but unlike his performances down on the farm during his years in the organization, he was striking out with some regularity.
Rather than to take his demotion as a negative, Diaz did what is encouraged of any player optioned down to the minor leagues – force the team to bring you back with your play on the field and at the plate.
He did exactly that upon his return to Columbus. He made his way into a dozen games and hit safely in eleven of them and reached safely with a hit or walk in all 12. He put together a .395/.509/.558 line at the plate with four doubles, a homer, and nine RBI as he continued last season’s success against Triple-A pitching.
He hit safely in each of his first seven games back, batting .385 with a .500 on-base percentage in that stretch with ten hits and six walks. He started May with a four-game hitting streak before his recall, hitting .500 (7-for-14) in that second streak with a double, a homer, four more walks, and eight RBI. He hit in the top three spots in the Columbus lineup and had hit both lefties (.353/.450/.529) and righties (.423/.543/.577) well. When the pressure was on when behind in the count, he had three hits in seven at bats. With runners in scoring position, he was 4-for-8 with eight RBI.
He also displayed the keen eye at the plate that had made his prospective value even higher as an on-base machine. Unlike his first stint in Cleveland, he showed far greater discipline at the plate in the Clippers lineup, drawing eleven walks in 55 plate appearances (20% of his trips to the batter’s box) while striking out just four times (7.27%). Now that could have been due to more familiarity with the pitchers at the minor league level, or it could have been from an adjustment in his approach at the plate with an emphasis on patience.
By comparison, those numbers were nearly flipped in his first stretch in an Indians uniform. He walked just five times in 61 plate appearances (8.20% of his trips) while striking out 14 times (22.95%). The high K rate and low walk rate significantly reduced one of his strongest suits throughout his minor league development.
During his time back with the Clippers, Diaz saw work at third base, left field, and right field as the organization looks to find ways for him to contribute with the Major League club with many of Diaz’s familiar positions occupied by mainstays.
Diaz made his third straight start for the Indians since his recall on Wednesday and appeared in all three games of the series against the Toronto Blue Jays. In ten trips to the plate, he was hitless with a walk and three strikeouts, continuing his Major League problems in an extremely small second sample size.
Manager Terry Francona acknowledged the club’s belief that Diaz “wasn’t a finished product” defensively during his postgame press conference on Wednesday after Diaz was charged with his first MLB outfield error and misplayed another ball in left on the night. The Tribe skipper did also reiterate his belief that if Diaz “keeps working, he’ll get better”.
During his 15 games at third base to start the season, Diaz made one error in 36 chances, but he was also lifted six different times for a late game defensive replacement. In two of his three outfield starts, he has been out of the lineup before the game ended, including on Wednesday when Chisenhall pinch-hit for him in the eighth after Diaz struck out twice in three trips. Chisenhall took over in right field, while Brandon Guyer shifted over from right to left to fill in for Diaz defensively after his adventures in the outfield.
When the club resumes play on Friday with the Minnesota Twins, there is a chance that Diaz could be moved back to Columbus if Brantley is ready to return to the lineup. Even if Brantley is not ready or if the club needs to consider a brief disabled list trip to give him extra time to get healthy, Austin Jackson will be first eligible to return from the DL on Friday. The unknown status of Abraham Almonte, who left Wednesday’s walk-off loss to Toronto after appearing to injure his right shoulder on a swing, could also have an effect on the length of stay in Cleveland for Diaz.
After hitting .325 for Columbus with a .399 OBP last season in 95 games, Diaz jumped over Giovanny Urshela as the top third base option in the minor league system for the Tribe and gave the impression that putting up steady numbers against Triple-A pitching would not be an issue. The bigger question will be if Diaz can get his offensive (and defensive) play to come around well enough at the big league level to force the club to hold onto him in a utility role, taking his much higher ceiling and potential over the more versatile and speedy, but older and lighter hitting Martinez deeper into the 2017 campaign.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images